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Tales of History #03: The tangy and sweet tale of Pani Puri

by Travelature Team

Do you know the legends behind the tangy, sweet, and spicy Pani Puri, a typical street snack in several cities of India?

Pani Puri is the most loved street snack across the diversified nation of India. For every Indian, it is a pure joy personified that finds a spot at the top for many.

Known for its various names across the country such as in Maharashtra, it is known as Pani Puri; Haryana it is known as paani patashi; fulki in Madhya Pradesh; Pani ke batashe in Uttar Pradesh; Phushka in Assam; pakodi in Gujarat, Gup-Chup in Odisha, Telangana, South Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh; Phuchka in Bengal, Bihar and Nepal. It is popularly known with a common name of Gol Gappa among Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, New Delhi, and Punjab.

In all these regions, the Pani Puri greatly varies in taste with different ingredients and varieties.

However, eating Pani Puri requires much attention and not a little skill: poke a hole on the puri surface with your index finger, fill it with fillings of your choice, such as mashed potatoes, chilli powder, chaat masala, finely chopped onions or chickpeas and then all soak quickly in sweet and sour tamarind and spicy green chutney water. 

Finally, put the whole package in your mouth and wait for the explosion of flavours, because now the crispy puri crumbles in the mouth with sauces that spill, fill the soul and at the same time relax the mind.

That small, unassuming puri serves many bellies with utmost pleasure and satisfaction to our taste buds like the most sublime street chaats.

This drool-worthy treat of Pani Puri is best enjoyed on the streets of India and never fails to put the heartiest smile on everyone’s face.

But did you know the various confusing tales surrounding its origin? From where did this fantastic toothsome food item came from in the family of Indian street snacks?

Unfortunately, the internet has little to offer when it comes to the origin of the toothsome Pani Puri.

If not, we are here today to tell the connection of Pani Puri with ancient history. Historically speaking, you may not know this. Still, people believe that there is an ancient connection between Pani Puri and the empire of the Mahabharata and Magadha.

Does Pani Puri belong to the Magadha Kingdom? Or

Does it belong to the Mahabharata Era?

Magadha Expansion 1

Map showing the expansion of Magadha and the Maurya Empire | Image by Avantiputra7 via Wikimedia Commons

Pani Puris are considered to be the evolutionary byproduct of the phulki, which originated in one of the sixteen mahajanapadas, or “great kingdoms,” of ancient India, the kingdom of Magadha (now a part of southern Bihar) in India. Although the exact period of its existence is not precise, it appears to have existed before 600 BC.

The Magadha Kingdom attributed a vital role in the development of Jainism and Buddhism, and two of India’s greatest empires, the Maurya Empire and the Gupta Empire.

Although, the lively accounts of Magadha along with Pataliputra are available in the Indica of the Greek historian Megasthenes (c. 300 BCE) and in travel diaries of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang (4th–5th and 7th centuries CE).

It is believed that phulkas (the precursor to Pani Puri) first originated in Magadha when we saw an explosion of various salty snacks, chitba, pitthow, tilba and chiwda of Katarni rice, or farsans were evolving. It is not clear what they were initially filled with, although it is probably a variation of aloo sabzi curry.

Draupadi and Pandavas

Image by Raja Ravi Varma via Wiki Commons

There is another legendary tale associated with the origin of Pani Puri according to some versions of our mythological texts with an epic connection with the Mahabharata era.

As the story goes, when the Pandava brothers, along with their wife Draupadi and mother Kunti, were exiled by the Kauravas after losing their kingdom in a dice game, Kunti threw Draupadi a challenge to test her household skills.

Kunti gave her all the leftover vegetables in the house and a little dough to make a meal for the family and told her to make sure the five princes did not go hungry.

It was then that Draupadi came up with the idea of a dish very similar to Pani Puri.

Impressed with her daughter-in-law’s abilities and skills, Kunti blessed the dish with immortality. Since then, this Indian street snack has travelled to India and conquered the country by adapting to the taste and traditions of various regions.

Unfortunately, there are no written records of the creator and culinary genius of Pani Puri, or are these stories a way to explain the existence of this Indian street snack? We can’t say that.

But one thing we know for sure is we can relish it in every variety and form.

Share this good story with your friends about the Indian street snack you love and relish since your childhood days.

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